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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 4

“Old Man Winter” remains in a fickle mood as I begin this weeks’ Gunflint scoop. Our last weekend of February had one day of almost spring like character and then slipped back into more normal seasonal conditions the next.                                                                                                                      
Sunny skies and temps around the freezing mark had roof tops dripping last Saturday. Evening saw the thermometer crash rapidly and light snow was soon to follow. By Sunday morning at Wildersmith the mercury was back near the zero mark and a few inches of fresh flocking had re-decked the forest.                                                                                                    
February then went out like a lion, it was a real howling and not from the local wolf pack. Strong north westerlies, the likes of which we have not seen this season, shook the house at times as “Mother Nature re-arranged our snow cover. The result is some splendid nature made snow sculptures. Talk about a capricious atmosphere!                                                                                     
Strange happenings are going on deep within the bowels of our granite landscape. The normal flow of sub-surface springs into area ditches and culverts has not occurred. Thus, frozen culverts with the usual ice dam build up, at the points of entry, is just not there. Although the inconvenience of these mini-glaciers is mitigated along many back country roads, it does not bid well for adequate run-off when the final meltdown occurs. The ability to replenish water levels on any number of upper Gunflint lakes looks to be alarming.                                                                                                                                                                                                   
It seemed as though the area was reasonably wet when fall was put to bed. But I guess such was not the case as aquifers keeping liquid trickling under ice and snows apparently were drier than assumed. This scenario is also troublesome when flora begins to dry out in late April and May. We can only hope “El Nino” cools into oblivion during the next two months, and ushers in much needed rain before the June green-up.                                                                                             
As it might relate to peculiar quirks of nature, there seems to be a chance the “great old man of the north” has put a spell on me. A couple weeks ago, I spent several hours cleaning heaps of snow off the roof only to have it snow again one day after my job was completed.                                                                                                                                              
Since then a few more droppings have built a lesser, but new accumulation. With the bright day of last Saturday, I decided to catch up once again. Sure enough, my clean roof job didn’t make it twenty-four hours this time, and more was predicted as I was keying this current report.                                                                                                                                                                    
Maybe Mr. Winter’s trying to get even with me for giving him such a bad time on a rather wimpy performance thus far. A connected thought comes to mind, with my kind regards for snow, if it takes cleaning off the roof to stimulate snow fall, perhaps I should spend more time on the ladder with my snow rake in hand.                                                                                                                 
Furry weasel activity has been hot and heavy the past week. We had an after dark battle royal, apparently between two critters, leaving blood on the deck. Suppose it could have been two Pine Martens in confrontation over a poultry part, or maybe a Marten and an un-suspecting flying squirrel. Regardless of the match-up, a winner cannot be announced.                                                
Two residents along the south Gunflint Lake shore report visits from a cousin of those Pine Martens. A Fisher or Fishers’ have been making nightly rounds at their places in the past few days. They could have been in this yard as well, based on some larger than usual Marten like trails around the place, but have not been observed. One neighbor shared a trail cam picture of one pilfering a chunk of suet from a bird feeding tray. The animal looked to be lush and healthy. Hopefully this guy/gal will avoid a trappers’ doom.                                                                                                                 
In spite of difficult ice conditions, the annual trout fishing derby is still a go for this coming Sunday.  Gunflint Lake ice is thick enough to support pedestrian anglers but not the usual vehicles. Fisher folks must sign in before setting out on their quest. Registration is between 9 and 11:00 am. All contest catches must be posted on the big board by 2:00pm. The usual raffle, cook-off and award ceremonies will be held near the boat launch area of Gunflint Lodge. Good luck to all!                                                                                                                                                                                                
On a final note, speaking of fishing and angling fortunes, yours truly got an excited call last weekend from my grandson Lane, of Sheldon, Iowa. He and his Dad had been fishing behind the Lewis & Clark Dam near Yankton, SD, when he hooked into a monster. When finally pulled into the boat a forty plus pound Paddlefish was on the end of the line. What a day!               
“Google” tells of this finny creature being a kind of throwback to prehistoric times but not too uncommon in some river systems. It was some kind of ugly, but certainly a fishing memory for the books.                                                                                                                                                                                
This is Fred Smith, on the trail, at Wildersmith!  The “March” is on!
 

(photo by ForestWander.com via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: March 3

Sophia and Silas report the latest School News.

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Cascade River

West End News: March 3

Birch Grove Community Center was hopping on Tuesday night when 88 people showed up for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party caucus night. In Cook County as a whole, 462 Democrats participated in their party caucus. I’ve attended the caucuses pretty reliably for my whole adult life and I’m pretty  sure that this year set the all time participation record. It even beat 2008, when Senator Barack Obama was causing a lot of interest in the presidential race.
 
I couldn’t find specific numbers for the four Republican precincts in the West End, but county wide, 109 Republicans participated in their caucuses. Best guess is somewhere between 30 and 40 West Enders caucused with the Republicans, which is also a very good turnout.
 
One of the most interesting outcomes on the Democratic side was a resolution opposing the sulfide mining in Minnesota that passed easily in the precincts from the North Shore all the way through the greater Ely area. New polls are showing growing resistance to this new form of mining across the northland and around the state. The resolutions were careful to distinguish the difference between mining sulfide ores and the existing taconite mining, which is supported by the DFL Party.
 
The Birch Grove Community Center sure is looking busy and successful these days. It was great to see it bursting with happy and engaged community members, cheerfully engaged in making their community and country a better place for all.
 
As always, it was fun to see the students’ artwork on the walls. One especially eye-catching display featured the students work in a slide show displayed on computer tablets mounted on a hallway bulletin board.
 
Birch Grove Community School Board member, Sara Somnis called to tell me about ten computer tablets that were recently purchased for students to use. This is part of a major trend in education as sophisticated learning apps are becoming cheap and commonplace. This trend works especially well for small, but highly motivated rural schools like Birch Grove. Sara also reported that new laptops were purchased for each teacher, making their work easier and more efficient.
 
Birch Grove is selling its old desktop computers and accessories to community members. So far the sale has raised more than $600, which will be used to buy more tablets. Much equipment remains to be sold, so if you’re looking for an old, but serviceable desktop computer, or other computer furniture and equipment, call Caroline at Birch Grove to schedule a shopping trip.
 
In a not-unrelated item, remember that the annual meetings for the Townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder are on Tuesday, March 8. Voting stations at the town halls are open from 5 until 8 pm with the annual business meeting starting right away at 8. 
 
Township annual meetings are the essence of the old saying that “the world is run by those who show up.” The annual budget and the priorities for the coming year are literally proposed and voted up or down by the residents who attend the meeting.  It’s also a great way to meet your neighbors and eat a few cookies together.
 
I urge everyone to attend their township annual meeting and I especially urge all to vote in favor of significant township investment from all three towns in the Birch Grove Community School and the Birch Grove Community Center. In my opinion, it is money very well spent and provides tremendous benefit to the entire West End.
 
Word is out the Cascade River is in great shape for skiing. You can hike up past the falls from the highway to ski up the river, or you can get dropped off at the Pike Lake Road Bridge and ski down to the highway. My sources said the trail is solid, smooth and well broken for both ski and snowshoe travel.
 
The Temperance River is also looking good. When we get into the warm/cold-night cycle next week, it is likely to develop a good crust, which will make it an ideal track for skate skiers. Of course, any time you travel on a river you should travel in a group, stay alert for hazards and carry rescue ropes and dry clothing.
 
My motto is, “When the river skiing is good, drop everything and go!” I doubt that anyone ever lay on their deathbed and regretted too many river skis. It’s just one of the perks to living in the beautiful and ever-changing West End.
 

(Photo courtesy of Cascade Property Rentals)

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North Woods Naturalist: Hard crust on the snow moon

Rain and freezing temperatures can dramatically change the nature of the snow pack. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the hard crust on the snow moon.

(Photo by Creag on Flickr)

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School News from Oshki Ogimaag: March 1

Matty reports the latest School News.

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A Year in the Wilderness: February 25 - Reflecting in the sleet

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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Sunny's Back Yard: The very tall deer

Sunny tells us about a recent unusual visitor to her Back Yard.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.

(Photo by Dwayne Ewers on Flickr)

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Vicki on her kick-sled

Magnetic North: The stuff of dreams

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the resident goats, chickens, ducks, bunnies, et al. are as baffled by our on-again-off-again, winter as are we all.

The recent rain/sleet/snow of late made chores a sloppy mess, but the result was unexpected bliss. Until this series of events, the snow base was just a little too soft for me to enjoy my daily and nightly kick sled rides up and down the driveway, and more importantly, the use of the sled to hold feed and water buckets on the twice daily chore runs. Now, however, the frozen hard layer exists and I am once more slip-slidin’ away through the winter.

My favorite time to ride is between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight. Think aurora borealis. Or stars so numerous and visible that it looks like the sky is dusted with powdered sugar. Or, as was the case just two nights ago, a full moon turning the new-fallen snowflakes into diamonds. Diamonds that painted the meadow and the backs of my mittens and flew up around the rungs of my sled as I sailed silent as a soft owl.

Tis the stuff of dreams, unless you are my daughter living in L.A. hearing this and demanding to know if I have my phone in my parka pocket while I am swanning about in the dead of night on a sled(!!!!) in the middle of “nowhere.” The answer is “yes, dear.” Ahhh, the sweetness of payback for all those nights when she was in high school and blowing through her curfew. Life is really, really, really good sometimes, isn’t it?

On a more somber note, not all at the farm has been moonbeams and chuckles. This weekend I tried in vain to doctor my majestic rooster, Mr. Fancy. A ridiculously fluffy blue-grey ball of sweetness, Fancy came to me as a “free, rare and exotic mystery chick” with my yearly Murray McMurray chick order. For “free” read “rooster.” So if anyone is averse to crowing, don’t bite on this offer. Only once in the 25 years of ordering have I been sorry that I went for the freebie and that was when I got a nasty little piece of business called a “game cock.” But Fancy was the best. Protective of his hens, always showing them the choicest morsels of food before partaking himself and posing strutting his stuff like a rock star when kids came to visit the farm.

I will miss him. And no, I will not take the mystery chick this spring. Fancy was just too great a rooster to top. Plus, I still have a crazy little bantam rooster crowing his head off!

It is snowing again today and I have new straw to throw into the coop and barn - the critter equivalent of starry snowflakes for us. Paul used to call it “putting on the clean sheets,” and that’s just what it is. The goats stand in the doorway to the barn as I break up the bales of golden straw, covering up the old and hardened bottom layer. Bosco, my big buff colored cashmere wether, likes to get in there with me, employing his handsome horns to lift up the flakes of straw, rearranging them as he sees fit. The others just baa a bit, eager to see if there might be some tasty bits in the bedding.

Over in the coop, though, the job is much simpler. I just take off the baling twine and let the hens tear the big bale apart. This is akin to a day at the Alpine Slide to a chicken. Scratching, flinging straw, and generally wearing themselves out rearranging all the flakes. By evening chores, the floor of the coop has been transformed into one cozy comforter of golden straw with the hens up on their roosts gazing down on their handiwork. Spent, but happy.

And so, as we head toward the spring equinox, just weeks and more hours of daylight from now, all is well at the farm. Come rain or snow. Sad farewells and remembered joys. Winter gives me the time and space to sort and piece together these things. Winter and the solitude of life at the end of a gravel road 14 miles from town and two miles uphill from the big lake. What scares some, suits me just fine. As it does, I imagine, most of you listening right now,

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 26

        
Boy how time flies! Seems as though February just arrived and already we’re bidding her farewell. The February log book has passed two details since we last met on WTIP. The first marked the second full month of winter while the other was the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon.” With that, we take aim at March.                                                                                                                    
The area experienced more up and down seasonal character over the last week. The Wildersmith neighborhood went from bitter subzero to a drippy freezing mark and back, over about seventy-two hours of weekend number three.                                                     
During the time of our bouncing thermometer, we had flurries, sleet, freezing drizzle, snow pellets, rain, drizzle and fog, then more snow. With exception of hail the Gunflint way pretty much got everything “Mother Nature” could offer in terms of precipitation. Ending the unusual wet weather onslaught, new snow refreshed and replaced what was lost to the near fifty degree temperature swing.                                                                                                                 
The maddening thing about a February meltdown is what it does to roads, drive ways and walking paths. The grit of dry snow makes moving about tolerable for most of the cold season, but when a couple warm days interrupt, making the snow soft and slick, getting around in the upright position and keeping one’s vehicle between the snow banks is nightmarish.                  
So my driveway and the Mile O Pine have an icy sheen now hidden by new fluff making navigation troublesome at best. As to my pedestrian efforts, our slick under footing is slowing me down to a mere creeping which is even slower than my normal old-timer pace. In short, it’s slow going around here and will most likely remain this way until the onset of “mud season.”         
Winter activities took a hit as well. Cross country ski trails turned to mush and the slush on our already gooey lake ice was surely made worse than ever for snowmobile traffic. Now that we’ve returned to a colder side, ski trails are crusty and slick. It will take a lot of extra work to grind up the frozen layer and re-dress.  Groomers are busy fixing things so gliding conditions should be back to normal soon.                                                                                                                             
Meanwhile, heading into March, chances of an extended period of subzero are waning. Our slushy lake cover is likely to linger on with the insulating snow adding a dangerous cover to the water on ice status.                                                                        
Difficult lake conditions make me wonder if the surfaces will be able to accommodate a couple coming events on the March calendar. On Sunday March 6th, the Cook County Ridge Riders will be hosting their annual trout fishing derby here on Gunflint Lake. One week later, the “Dog Days of Winter” will be holding Sled Dog Derbies and Skijoring Races on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge. Info on event status for the Trout Derby can be found by checking the CCSC Ridge Riders website, and for the “Dog Days” events see www.visitcookcounty.com.                                                   
The weekend warm-up stimulated an enthusiastic gathering of local winged folk. Big ones and little ones of many colors energetically arrived and departed the seed trough. I happily obliged them with seeds, bread scraps and leftover waffles. As would be expected the blue jay gang fell in love with the waffle pieces devouring them like a plague of locusts.                                         
A couple, here and then gone again visitors, came back over the last week. Our transient pine martens have hit the feed rail again.                                                                                                             
When I ran out of poultry scraps, guess they took offense to only having sunflower seeds on the menu and thought they could do better elsewhere. Since the Wildersmith “Colonel” has a replenished chicken cache, the cool critters seem content once more. Adding to discussion of the furry guests, it’s a good bet, if they are females, they’re fattening up for delivery of their next generation.                                                                                                                                    
Further, speaking of little ones, romance is wafting through the forest. It’s mating time for canine types in the woods. Fox, coyotes and wolves have been in the mating mood these past few weeks. While on another note, bear cubs are probably crawling about their dens as momma catches her last winks of the slumber season.                                                                                                               
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith!  Happy Trails to you, Gunflint that is!

(photo by Mary & Dan via Flikr)
 

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Superior National Forest Update: February 26

Hi.  I’m Patrick Krage, assistant fire engine captain, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For late February, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
The variety of weather we’ve had, from biting cold to almost balmy, from snow to rain, has really impacted all forms of recreation, and work, on the Forest.  There is a lot of slush on the lakes, and in subfreezing temperatures, it will freeze to snowmobile tracks or cross country skis as soon as it gets exposed to air.  One way to deal with this on a sled is to go faster, but the faster you go, the harder it is to see dangerous thin ice, or to stop when you do see it.  Give yourself extra space around possible danger zones at lake outlets and inlets and look for other signs of thin ice.  A friend was telling me about seeing an otter appear on the lake, and realizing that the otter’s sudden arrival meant there must be a hole through the ice in that location.   Also, keep an ear open for ice house removal dates.  They are coming up sooner than you might think. 
Off the lakes though, the trails are in pretty decent shape.  While we’ve had some thaws, they’ve usually been followed by a little snow, so ski trails are good.  Most snowmobile trails are good as well, but some may be rough where slushy snow has refrozen into bumps.  We are asking for a little help on wilderness portage trails though.  Some portages are still blocked by trees downed in the December ‘snow-down’ storm.  We don’t want you to clear trails, but if you are out in the Boundary Waters, please note what the conditions are on any portages you cross.  Photos would be particularly useful.  Reports and photos can be sent to the Tofte and Gunflint email addresses listed on our website, or taken to our offices.  This information will be used as we plan for trail clearing during the summer season.
As far as work in the Forest is concerned, warm weather has kept some swampy areas soft, making it hard for timber harvesting equipment to move in the winter.  This caused a break in timber activity, but this week, things have picked up again.  On the Gunflint District, visitors should expect logging traffic on the Greenwood Lake Road, Gunflint Trail, northern end of the Bally Creek Road, and The Grade.  On the Tofte District, logging traffic can be expected on the Honeymoon Trail, Caribou Trail, and Clara Lake Road.  Some of these roads are very narrow and winding.  Drive slowly and attentively; log trucks don’t stop on a dime, and they generally don’t back up long distances for passenger cars.  There are also ongoing state logging operations using some of these roads, which may add to the traffic. 
There is actually a little fire news as well.  The DNR is adjusting the burning permit season due to lack of snow cover in some areas and warm temperatures.  It seems odd to think about fire in February, but if you are looking to burn brush piles, you should do it sooner rather than later as there may be an early start to the fire season this year.  Check on permit needs, keep the fire in a clear area away from other flammable material, and never leave a fire unattended, even in winter.
With spring coming up fast, these next few weeks may be the final weeks to really get out and enjoy winter.  So, hit the trails, and until next time, this has been Patrick Krage with the National Forest Update.

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